Castle Roland

Book II - Global Explorer

by David McLeod


Chapter 36

Published: 10 Sept 15

Global Explorer II

by David McLeod

The Great Wall—of the Marshall Islands

_Global Explorer_
June 15, 2018

The hack attack on North Korea had worked. Francesca started injecting messages onto the scraps of the North Korean internet. It was slow, and we weren't getting any feedback.

After a hushed conversation with Francesca, Nicky placed a November-circuit call to Davey. I was only half-listening, until I heard him say Molniya satellites. Those were the Russian's contribution to the "Red Phone" that had linked the Soviet leadership with the President of the USA during the Cold War. I knew that, but had no idea what the numbers that Nicky and Davey exchanged meant.

When Nicky hung up, he saw me looking at him. He grinned. He knew exactly what I wanted to know.

"Four of the satellites are still in orbit," he said. "The MOLINK hot line hasn't been active for years, and now that President Hawkins and Jonathan have their own November phone, the satellites are surplus. Jonathan has agreed to turn them over to Francesca, who will tweak their orbits to put them in apogee over Korea … and switch their transceivers to the 800 mHz bands used by North Korea's cell phone system."

"Oh, crap!" I said. "Uh, did you and Francesca just conspire? Together, I mean? Against a sovereign nation?"

Nicky just grinned.

It wasn't long before North Korean kids started receiving messages on the smuggled cell phones and discovered that they could send to the world photos and texts of their own horror stories.

Within weeks, even the most radical countries that maintained diplomatic relations with North Korea were pressuring that country's government.

It was the Australians who broke the barrier, however, when they pledged food. Their kids had led the charge. Of course, it was Jonathan's offer of hydrogen power in return for a significant cultural exchange that finally opened the country.

@sciencetruthnolies: kids win again welcome north korea

"What does he mean? That kids welcomed NK, or that NK was welcomed?" Francesca's message was somewhat disjointed. I figured that meant she really didn't understand.

"Does it really matter?" Nicky asked? "We won … thanks to you."

I was startled, but Francesca seemed to take what Nicky said at face value.

Nature, 21 November 2013, Earth Analogue III: "Small plastic debris is ubiquitous in the aquatic environment, contaminating coastal, deep-sea, near shore, and open-ocean … habitats … Hazards associated with plastic debris include physical components, chemical ingredients, and environmental chemicals."

_Global Explorer_
Pacific Garbage Patch
June 16, 2018

We kept the summer campers busy, but gave them time to play. They'd be working pretty hard once we found the Pacific Garbage Patch. During the transit from Japan, we showed them what tasks and experiments would be offered, and began to sign people up. I was pleased to see that not everyone wanted to play first fiddle—that is, to fly in the Clippers and helos. Some of them were eager to analyze what was found during those flights. It was a good group of kids.

We sent the Clippers out ahead of us to use their multi-spectral lasers to detect the "patch" and to warn us. That would keep us from clogging up the sensors like we did last year at the South Pacific Garbage Patch—and give us enough warning to reel in the sensor train before sensor units were damaged.

When we reached the edge of the patch, Captain Izzard ordered the Explorer to slow to five knots. Guided by reports from the Clippers, we sailed until we were in the middle.

A lot of the campers were disappointed that there wasn't a gyre full of Styrofoam cups and junk, although we did recover several unmatched athletic shoes, probably left over from the tsunami that struck Fukishima.

Azisa put on a show for the kids, explaining that the garbage was mostly molecular. "Much of the pollution is complex organic molecules. You know, of course, that organic means carbon-based. Petrochemicals and most plastics are simply carbon-based molecules. Most of these molecules are harmless except for the ones that might mimic naturally occurring chemicals, and fool a fish's biochemistry. In that case, the fish might die.

"Some are toxins, and they manage to get into the food chain when they are eaten—or absorbed by phytoplankton. The phytoplankton are eaten by larger and larger creatures, including humans. At each step, the toxins become more and more concentrated."

Bert was absolutely thrilled—if a little nervous—when Azisa asked him to complete the presentation.

"What we are going to try to do is first to eat up some of the chemicals before the fish do, so that the fish don't eat them and get fooled. We also want to encapsulate the toxins and force them to drop to the bottom of the ocean where they will sit until they decompose into harmless chemicals. Of course, as cold as it is at the bottom of the ocean, that could take a long, long time. Fortunately, fungi don't seem to be in a hurry."

Azisa and Bert had been breeding several species of fungi in tanks below decks. Bert and his mentor in Oklahoma had reviewed the theory. Dr. Brewster and Dr. Gannon had concurred. Azisa's paper, with Bert listed as co-researcher, had been peer-reviewed and published. As far as I was concerned, nothing else was needed. I gave the okay, and nozzles on the stern began spraying fungal spores over the ocean.

It seemed to work. Our sampling and remote sensing confirmed a noticeable decrease in both "crud" and toxins. "It's a start, but it's only a start," I said. And made a note to come back and check, soon.

The Washington Standard June 17, 2018: Georgetown Hit and Run Leaves One Dead: A member of the staff of Senator Randolph was killed last night by a hit-and-run driver. The accident occurred in Georgetown, outside a notorious gay bar. Senator Randolph, while expressing sympathy to the staffer's family, expressed his shock and disappointment at the aide's betrayal. "He should have known that homosexuality is aberrant behavior and that I would not tolerate anyone on my staff exhibiting it."

That should do it, the senator thought after reading the article. If he's left anything incriminating behind, it will be easy to smear it with his ‘lifestyle.'

Lady Chapel, UFC Cathedral
Washington, DC
June 24, 2018

"We and seventeen of our largest churches have received letters from the Internal Revenue Service requiring that we show cause why our non-profit status should not be revoked," Mr. Lennox said. He did not say that the seventeen were not only the largest congregations, but were also those tied to the largest offshore bank accounts.

"It's the work of the president," Elder #1 said. He didn't say that he had warned the leadership long ago about the need to defeat Hawkins, even before he had won the primary.

The Bishop remembered, however, and resolved to find a way to distance himself from blame.

"Mr. Lennox," the Bishop said, "you assured us that those accounts were safe."

"Sir, if I may remind you, I also said that they were safe only as long as the USA didn't decide to investigate them, and I told you four years ago that the then-current administration was so desperate for money that they could be expected to investigate.

"I will say, again, that we should put our—I mean, the church's—money in legitimate accounts in US banks."

Can't do that, the Bishop thought. We have to have accounts to pay off our people in the Congress—and elsewhere. Still, I have to keep this man happy.

"Mr. Lennox, you are right, of course. On the other hand, as we all know, God moves in mysterious ways, and in His name, we must be able to operate in mysterious ways."

"Yes, sir," Lennox said. "The new accounts are ready. Tomorrow, beginning at 5:00 AM banks in Europe will be open and we can begin transferring funds. I will bring my laptop computer with the new account information to your office—"

"Not at 5:00 AM you won't, unless you expect to be alone until nine o'clock. And don't forget that the old accounts require both our passwords."

Gay Pride Parade
Washington, DC
June 28, 2018

The three televisions in Senator Randolph's office were tuned to two of the leading right-wing cable networks and the primary local station. The sound was turned off, and the senator was reading an amendment to the Defense Authorization Bill, prepared by a lobbyist for the Ergon Energy Corporation. The amendment would be worth tens of millions of dollars to the company, and at least a million to Randolph. He was trying to decide which of his allies would slip it into the "hopper" for him, when an aide stepped in.

Before Randolph could frown, the aide pointed to the television tuned to the DC station. Randolph grabbed the remote, and turned up the sound.

"… largest group of politicians ever seen in the parade. Walking with the Mayor and entire City Council, are Senator Franklin, in his 18th parade; Representative Peligrini of California, and Rep—"

Randolph snapped off the sound. That bitch! She's tied too closely to me. This is not good.

_Global Explorer_
Alexander Anconia's Log
June 30, 2018

We had done all we could do in the Pacific Garbage Patch, and were steering west-southwest. The sensor train had been deployed. I had finally earned my Merchant Marine certification, and the captain had given me command of the ship. I ordered the speed ramped up to 15 knots. Just as the reactor control room acknowledged the signal from the engine order telegraph, Nicky's terminal pinged.

&sciencetruthnolies: couldn't be more clear if in black and white explorer cleans up pacific garbage patch

"He knows it was Azisa and Bert," I said.

"Looks like it, but only we would make that connection," Nicky said. "And I want an invitation to the presentation of their Nobel Prize."

"You think?" I asked.

"All it would take would be a nomination from your dad," Nicky said.

I was startled, but then accepted Nicky's assessment. And got on the phone to Dad.

_Global Explorer_
Majuro Atoll
Republic of the Marshall Islands
July 7, 2018

Director Kabua of the Marshallese Oceanographic Institute met the Explorer. After formally welcoming us in the name of the people and government, he invited "your team and yourself" to join him on a boat tour of Majuro Atoll. I introduced him to Nicky, Azisa, and Bert.

"Swim suits and foot protection would be appropriate," he said. "And sunscreen." He looked at Azisa. "For you, too, young man. Even I, who am nearly as dark as you, can sunburn."

Mr. Kabua, who asked that we called him Frank, steered the institute's motor launch through one of the channels between islands and then to a windward beach. We waded ashore with 20-gallon plastic bags, and helped Frank pick up debris. He talked about various pieces … where he thought they'd come from, how long it took for them to reach the atolls, how long it took them to decompose, which ones offered particular danger to marine life, and how much more trash was blown past the islands and ended up in the garbage patch.

"We have been following your work in the Pacific," he said to Azisa. "You have called the world's attention to one of many problems facing Gaia."

Then he grinned. "Most of the Marshallese people have been touched by the Universal Fundamentalist Church, the Church of Christ, the Seventh Day Adventists, or some other cult. Some of us still believe not in those gods, or in the gods and goddesses of nature, but in our unity with all that is living. Gaia is a convenient name for that concept."

I wondered, then, if there were dryads on the Marshallese Islands, and if we would meet them.

@sciencetruthnolies: global explorer arrives marshall islands first job more trash cleanup

"Nicky? Where did that come from?" We had returned to the ship just in time to shower and change for supper. The post from Sciencetruth hit the internet about 9:00 PM. Time for some detective work.

"Come to bed, Nicky," I said two hours later. He was still at a terminal, trying to wring something out of the nearly forty email messages from science staff, crew, students, and campers that mentioned what we'd done.

"We can guarantee the security of our communications, but once those messages hit the internet for delivery to mail servers, they are open to any good hacker. It's another false trail."

I felt Nicky's disappointment turn to something quite different when I stood behind his chair and massaged his shoulders.

"You're tense," I said, and continued to reduce that tension.

Director Kabua—Frank—had accepted my invitation for a conference and lunch on the Explorer the following day, and agreed to help map out activities for our visit. When he arrived, he was accompanied by a dozen youngsters.

"Snorkeling and scuba will be an important part of your visit," he said. "Each of these is qualified to lead groups in both activities."

I understood not only the generosity of his offer, but also that he hoped these kids would be included in all our plans. Before Frank could ask, I invited him to send more of his students, and before our three-week visit was over, at least a hundred Marshallese kids had visited the ship and participated in our studies.

While the Marshall Islands were the world's largest shark sanctuary, comprising some 2 million square kilometers of ocean, that didn't mean much to the "shark finners" who hunted sharks, cut off their fins for shark fin soup, and then released the crippled fish to die or be eaten alive by other fish.

There was one place Frank would not allow any of his students to go: Bikini Atoll.

"Radioactive iodine, created during underwater or near water nuclear bomb tests, has a half-life of either 8 days or 15.7 million years. The first one will enter the human body, find its way to the thyroid gland, and cause a quick death. The second one will catch those who escape the first, enter their thyroid gland, and cause a much slower death. It is a lose-lose situation," he explained.

I knew what he meant. There was plenty of radiation to go around. Between 1946 and 1958, the USA tested 67 nuclear weapons in the Marshall Islands, and the largest nuclear weapon ever detonated, the test they called Castle Bravo, was detonated there. The first hydrogen bomb, nicknamed Ivy Mike, virtually destroyed the island of Elugelab in 1952. The USA Atomic Energy Commission had called the Marshall Islands, "the most contaminated place in the world."

"Nevertheless," Frank said, "if you wish to go, you are free to do so. I have seen your protocols for protecting your people, and am confident that you know what you are doing."

Despite the cultural and physical damage done to the Marshall Islands and their inhabitants, they managed to hang on to their little piece of Earth. Now, those who had escaped the cancers caused by ionizing radiation were faced with something else: inundation by the ocean. The average height of the atolls was less than two meters above sea level, and that was before global climate change had raised sea level by more than half-a-meter, and threatened to raise it by more.

The problems facing the people of the Marshalls were enormous and complex. Fortunately, I had some helpers.

I could not keep secret from Nicky that his mommy would be visiting us. I think he saw my disappointment when I realized that he'd figured that out. He came to me that night.

"Alex? I know that Mommy is going to visit us, and I know you wanted that to be a surprise. I'm sorry … "

"Nicky, my love? I want you to be happy more than I want to surprise you. Surely you know I knew you would find out."

He giggled. "Yeah," he said, "but don't call me Shirley!"

It was to be the largest engineering project in recent history. The Chinese had built the Great Wall, which was more than 5,500 miles long. We were going to build a 65 mile long carbon nanotube wall around Majuro—the most populous of the atolls that made up the Republic of the Marshall Islands. The wall would be about 20 miles in diameter and although it would be 10 meters above sea level, it would not be visible from the atoll.

"How will Anconia Industries make money from this?" Frank asked Aunt Elizabeth. "For I know that you will … that you must."

"You already know that we're going to charge you one cent per kiloWatt hour for electricity," Aunt E said. "At your present per capita consumption, that's almost three-quarters of-a-million dollars per year. And we expect that to go up as people begin to understand how cheaply you can generate electricity.

"Alexander? You can best answer the rest of the question."

"You've already heard from my Uncle Frank about seafood farming. With your lagoon and some additional three hundred square miles of protected ocean, you're going to have the biggest fish hatchery in the world. Frankly—no pun intended—you're going to need his ships and technology to manage that. He'll take out his fee in fish."

Despite the bad things we'd seen, our visit to the Marshall Islands was very close to a tropical vacation for all the crew and supercargo. Our media people shot hours and hours of video during the day, and spent nights putting together programs for science channels, for Francesca's web channels, and for a series of movies chronicling the voyages of the Explorer.

Despite our focus on a tiny part of the world, and our isolation, other things were happening—things that would affect us.

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